Reliving the Glittery Optimism of the 2000s at Just Like Heaven Review+Photos: Just Like Heaven Fest Brookside By The Rose Bowl 5/13/23
LOS ANGELES, CA- It’s 80° in the Pasadena sun, I’ve forgotten my sunscreen, and I’m already 45 minutes late. I shuffle past a rainbow of brightly dyed heads, iridescent jackets, both plain and glittering cowboy hats, sparkly fringes draped from said cowboy hats, a couple of fashionable (and functional) parasols, and, of course, fanny packs hugging hundreds of hips. Even those who are otherwise normally dressed seem to be wearing at least one pair of oddly shaped sunglasses. The crowd is filled with both loud and subtle references to the bright, colorful sounds of the early-mid 2000s musical acts set to perform today.
Glancing down at my shuffling feet, I notice that an overwhelmingly large portion of the crowd is wearing cowboy boots. Most are tan, some metallic, some golden. As more cowboy outfits join the security line, I rack my brain wondering why this particular fashion choice is so popular. Is there a band they’re referencing, or some early 2000s trend I was too young to be aware of? A few minutes later, as I’m swatting the hair away from my sweaty forehead, I realize the cowboys aren’t just fashionable: they’re geniuses. Their wide-brimmed hats provide the perfect amount of sun protection on this bright, cloudless day.
Suddenly, a small force collides with my upper leg, jerking me back to the present. “Sorry! I didn’t see you there!” a small voice rises from the crowd. I look down to see an adorable little girl with glitter under her eyes. I forgive her instantly. Her mom is here to see Future Islands, she says, it’s their first festival together. The glittery girl’s equally friendly mom notices my pale shoulders turning red, blesses me with some sunscreen, and we part ways.
Unfortunately, I’ve missed the Cults’ set, so I rush off to the Orion cage to catch STRFKR. Their bright indie pop/rock fills the crowd with uplifting guitar melodies and chilled-out vocals. I’m instantly captivated by the 8-12 dancing, fully costumed astronauts on stage, complete with their huge, round space helmets. It’s virtually impossible to distinguish the faceless dancers from the band themselves, which adds a layer of mystery to their uniquely unforgettable performance style. According to STRFKR themselves, many of their fans show up to their shows wearing astronaut gear in hopes of being pulled up on stage to dance with them. (Full interview with STRFKR coming soon!)
Next, I rush across the golf course to the Stardust Stage, where Azealia Banks is set to play at 2:30. Unfortunately, Azealia is running late, so after standing in the blazing sun for 30 minutes of her set, which was only scheduled for 40 minutes, the crowd begins booing around 3:00 pm. Finally, she takes the stage, but only plays the last 10 minutes of her set. Luckily, I still get to see her perform her 2012 hit “212”, a timeless, spunky track that’s been in my rotation for 10 years now. The crowd brings their best energy for her short setlist, but after half an hour of waiting shoulder-to-shoulder with no music, many festival-goers are understandably a little bummed.
After this, I rush to find some shade where I can rest and hydrate for a while. I spot a couple of my friends, and we decide to grab some food and relax for an hour or two before heading back over to the Orion Stage to see Future Islands and Empire of the Sun back to back. As I don’t immediately recognize the artists by name, I am surprised at how many of their songs I know, having heard many of them while growing up in the early 2000s. Their bright, nostalgic, and overall feel-good sound fills the cool, pink air with smiles as the sun sets, perfectly setting the stage for the next headlining acts.
Then, MGMT takes the stage, performing their 2007 debut album, Oracular Spectacular, in full. The energy of the crowd is immaculate; everyone around me is equally thrilled to see one of the most influential, star-studded groups of the 2000s live. I have an absolute blast dancing to their hits “Time to Pretend”, “Kids”, and “Electric Feel” before I have to leave to catch my personal favorite act of the night, as their sets unfortunately overlap. Still, I manage to catch a good amount of some of the best songs I heard throughout my childhood and still enjoy to this day. MGMT’s upbeat, optimistic tunes are timeless– everybody, including their mothers (and even little kids), has an absolute blast watching their set. The joyful, dynamic energy that MGMT brings to the stage is every bit as bubbly and bright as the music on their albums.
I can hear M83’s set beginning from the other side of the festival, so I sprint to the stage just in time to catch the tail end of his first song. Miraculously, I make my way up to the very front of the crowd in the span of only a few tracks. M83 instantly captivates the audience with his spectacular stage presence and slow, utterly euphoric synth sounds. M83’s grand, cinematic sound features occasional glittering guitar solos, most notably in some of his more emotional and transcendent tracks, such as “Wait” and “Solitude”. A great setlist is the first step towards putting on a spectacular live show, but seeing that everyone on stage is having just as much fun as the audience provides for a rush like no other. The crowd becomes one with the artist as we all sway to the slow yet danceable tunes being played.
I still remember where I was the first time I heard “Midnight City” in 2011. I was 8 years old, sitting in the back of my mom’s car, driving through the blue, snowy, street-lit roads of my upstate New York hometown. It evoked a magical, profound feeling in me that I didn’t yet have the vocabulary to describe. To this day, it’s hard to put that feeling into words. “Midnight City” has consistently stayed on my playlists throughout the years, because it’s such a versatile track; it can resonate in dance clubs, during solo car rides, sitting in bed, late-night skating, and everything in between. The cinematic nostalgia of M83’s music never fails to uplift me to another, somehow better, more inspiring dimension. Needless to say, experiencing “Midnight City” live, only 15 feet away from one of my childhood heroes, was arguably the most surreal concert experience I’ve had thus far. There was even someone playing the saxophone solo on stage during the song’s climax– to which the crowd erupted in cheers and whistles. Even now, days later, I’ve been rewatching all of the videos I took during M83’s set in complete awe, pinching myself. I still can’t believe that was real life.
Finally, the biggest headlining act on the bill, the legendary Yeah Yeah Yeahs, played the last set of the night. Unfortunately, in the rush of running from M83’s set to the other side of the festival, I was separated from my group, and had to embark on a quest to find them because cell service was incredibly spotty.
As a result, I didn’t get to see much of the performance, but I was still able to hear bits and pieces of a few of my favorite Yeah Yeah Yeahs tracks, including “Maps” and “Zero”, even from the other side of the venue. I could hear the crowd roaring no matter how far away I ventured from the stage. Yeah Yeah Yeahs closed the night with, in my opinion, one of the best 2000s dance tracks of all time, “Heads will Roll”. With its spellbinding synths, energetic vocals, and punchy drums, it has been the shining star of nearly every house party I’ve ever hosted or attended. Although I was still on the opposite side of the venue, I danced my little heart out, in disbelief that I was finally hearing that breathtaking song played in front of a live audience.
If I could describe all of the sounds I heard at Just Like Heaven in one word, it would be effervescent. Anytime I need a pick-me-up, I throw on my playlist that’s stacked with the hopeful indie pop and lively alternative rock of the 2000s, especially MGMT, M83, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. In today’s sometimes grim sociopolitical atmosphere, it was truly an invaluable experience getting to escape real life for a day while dancing to the upbeat, sparkly songs of decades past. At Just Like Heaven, it felt like we (myself and the other attendees) were collectively summoning better times, yearning for just a taste of the unparalleled optimism of the early 2000s.